Last evening around dusk as I was preparing for dinner I heard my daughter Arayla suddenly shout out from the living room, “Oh no!” And then I heard my son Ezra scramble out from his bedroom to see what the deal was. I joined my children in the living room and found them standing at the window, staring out towards the mountains.
Arayla glanced up at me worriedly, “Do you think that’s smoke, Mama?”
Ezra moaned loudly, “Oh please no, please!”
I shook my head with resistance and denial, “Maybe not, Guys. Maybe it’s just foggy or hazy.”
I quickly went to my computer and looked up the air quality index for Ashland, and it was still reading normal.
I searched for local wildfires, and saw that there were indeed a handful.
I returned to the window beside my children, and my heart sank as I confessed that the air did seem to have that familiar, dreaded weight to it. Within a few minutes, the air thickened further still, and it became obvious: the smoke was back.
Before I took our dog Freya out for her evening walk, I reached up into the coat closet and got down our masks from last year.
We’ve had the most glorious Summer here in Southern Oregon up until now. Really, we’ve been so grateful. The children have been riding their bikes everywhere, stretching into newfound independence in our sweet and special valley.
Arayla’s been tending to her horse every day, and loving her barn job of cleaning stalls and feeding horses, while Ezra’s been shooting hoops for hours on end, sweating up a storm while refining his skills.
As July has stretched on, smoke-free, and we passed the anniversary of when the fires began last year and the year before last, I’ve been wondering if maybe we could just get a break from it this year? Could we be so blessed? I’ve heard a few people mention it, quietly, under their breath, “Oh we’ve been so lucky this year with all the clean air!” alongside some superstitious sense of, “Shhh…don’t say it too loud.”
It’s easy to feel the collective PTSD of the land and all the creatures. There’s a palpable strain on the humans of this region in feeling trapped by the toxicity of the smoke. It’s depressing to realize this is just one of our seasons now: Fire Season, Smoke Season. It comes in between Summer and Fall.
This morning I was still in bed when my kids came and snuggled in close. First Ezra came, cuddling into my right, and then a few minutes later Arayla arrived, cozying into my left. They were both in tears in my arms, openly grieving the arrival of the smoke. I held them close and empathized, “I know, my loves. I’m so sorry…”
Ezra, whose lungs are particularly sensitive to the impact of the smoke, started scheming about how we would get away. He began imagining out loud how we could hitch a horse trailer to the back of our car and bring Ollie, Arayla’s horse, with us, and how we’d find a beautiful house by the ocean somewhere, where Arayla could safely ride Ollie in the clean ocean air on the beach.
His adorably generous (albeit far-fetched) fantasy seemed to be genuinely bringing him joy and peace, until he said, “But that would probably be like a million dollars. Or at least twelve thousand dollars, right Mom?”
He was quiet for a few moments, before he concluded, “The problems are that: 1) It’s expensive to leave, and 2) we don’t want to be away from our home, and 3) we can’t just leave our animals, but we can’t bring them with us easily either.” His shoulders slumped down as he recognized the complexity.
Arayla began to tell us about a new kind of expensive horse blanket she was just reading about, made of the same material firefighter’s coats are made of, with a built-in tracking device, so if you let your horse run off in a fire, maybe at least it’s easier to find them later.
As I held my children I reminded them how grateful we can be for our well-insulated home, and air-conditioning, and to remember how many people have it far worse. I talked about how my heart especially goes to the homeless at this time of year, and to all the wild animals whose homes are outside, and to the fire-fighters, working so hard to put out the fires.
I spoke a prayer for humans to be ever-more conscious, diligent, responsible and respectful towards fire, as the vast majority of wildfires, including this one presently filling our valley with smoke, have been caused by humans being irresponsible.
I spoke a prayer for our beloved Mother Earth, fevering with global warming, and fighting to find the balance.
It seems the most and best we can do at times is to openly grieve, count our bountiful blessings, and pray.